By 1997, The Chaos Computer Club in Berlin was growing rapidly and local groups started popping up all over Germany. In Cologne, the media center of Germany, a CCC group called C4 started. After some time, the folks at C4 realized that many of their club were getting old and lame. A cunning and subtle plan was hatched to involve more young people in the group, C4 developed a hacking contest called U23 for those under 23 years old. Each year the challenge switches between hardware and software and the young hackers develop cooperative teamworking skills alongside technical skill-building development. One year, the challenge was to make a robot to follow a line and read a barcode at the end of it and another year, teams built a chat server that tunnels over UDP. U23 has since been adopted by other teams to involve young people and keep CCC fresh.
In 1998, the Chaod Computer Club’s annual meeting, called Chaos Communication Congress, moved to a beautiful building with a domed roof. There were rooms for talks and interpreter cabins but the presence of asbestos provided a minor speed bump. By this time, the Internet had entered popular culture. The dot-com boom was ramping up and CCC grew from about 250 people to 1500. There is a regional group in every city and because the first meeting of the CCC happened on a Tuesday, all the groups meet weekly on Tuesdays. While Tuesday CCC meetings are for members only, many regional branches have a public night for talk and discussion either weekly or monthly on a Thursday.
In 2001, Wau Holland, the founder of CCC died rather suddenly of a brain tumor. It was the 20th birthday of CCC and an exhibition and historical interpretation center had been planned. Despite the setback of losing their founder, many special things happened that year including, blinkenlights.
I met Tim Pritlove to hear about the history of Blinkenlights. Blinkenlights was an installation set up in the teacher’s building in downtown Berlin. It was a matrix of windows that could be lit up to create an array of 18 x 8 lights. I’ll talk more about this amazing project in a future blogpost.
After the 2003 Congress, it was decided to open up the group and make it more international. The format of Congress switched to mostly English presentations and overseas speakers were invited.
Hacker camping conferences in Europe were started by the Dutch early on in 1993 and they followed that four years later in 1997. The CCC got inspired and started their own camp on an alternate four-year cycle in 1999 and 2003 and 2007
These days, there is so much stuff going on with the CCC. It has grown from its small roots to become established in Hamburg, then Berlin, and then it has spread with smaller and wonderful regional groups around the country. Jens mentioned that he likes to be surprised by the individual groups projects.
Currently the CCC is becoming more involved in political struggles. Jens reflected that it seems that every week, a CCC member is working with parliament on one or more issues that effect freedom, digital rights, and the crossroads of technology and lawmaking. For many in the CCC, fighting for your rights and hacking are inseparable.
Some of the current issues facing the CCC are pointing out security problems with RFID passports, the unfairness of discriminatory visa waivers and other security problems. The CCC is generally considered by average Germans to be the last line of defense for freedom and civil rights in Germany in the digital age.
This is the last post about the history of the Chaos Computer Club, but the story doesn’t end here. After returning from camp, some new friends and I started NYCResistor to have a hacker space of our own locally. A special thanks goes out to Nick Farr, the Johnny Appleseed of hacker spaces who organized the wonderful Hackers on a Plane trip. Not only did he organize a super affordable trip to go to defcon and the Chaos Communication Camp, but after camp he organized a tour and myself and a wide-eyed bunch of hackers visited C-Base, Metalab, Das Labor, C4, Entropia and Netz Laden. Each community has it’s own way of cultivating community around hacking.
Most of the info for this post came from notes from conversations I had last year with Jens Ohlig and Tim Pritlove at Chaos Computer Camp. Make sure to read the first and second and third blogposts too!
From December 27th to 30th, the 25th Chaos Communications Congress will meet again and they have 6 different categories in the call for participation. It is a wide and varied world of hacking presented at the Congress. It is the place to be in the world on those dates. I can’t wait to go and see all the cool projects, people, and presentations this winter in Berlin!